With just five games to go, the Argentine Primera is set to go down to the wire with two classic rivals going head to head for the title
For many outside Argentina and at times it seems even within the national media, the nation’s club football is either painted in the blue-and-gold of Boca Juniors or the red-and-white of River Plate. All too often, particularly in recent years, this somewhat blinkered view has been amiss but with five rounds remaining, the two Buenos Aires giants are looking to go head-to-head for the title.
Eight has become two over the last few weeks and what was almost a perfect weekend for league leaders Boca was cut short by fierce rivals River on Monday evening. The momentum of Marcelo Gallardo’s side continues to build and as they swatted aside Gimnasia in La Plata, a victory in their game in hand would leave Los Millonarios just a point behind the old enemy with five to play.
When the season resumed after the long summer break, River were deemed out of the title picture after their humbling at the hands of Carlos Tevez in December’s superclásico. The Copa Libertadores was to be the sole focus and any league fixtures sacrificed to remain fresh.
However, the arrival of Ariel Rojas helped freshen the River midfield and the results have been devastating with Gonzalo Martinez producing the level of performances that his talent always warranted from the right, Nacho Fernandez forcing his way into Argentina recognition from a slightly more advanced position and the strike force of Lucas Alario and Sebastian Driussi looking like finding the net in every match.
River have dropped two points in the nine league matches since March and following last weekend’s superclasico revenge, Gallardo’s boys have consequently reeled Boca in.
Following that defeat in La Bombonera, Los Xeneizes desperately needed a win and in doing so on Saturday, killed off another of their title rivals.
Newell’s Old Boys have been the closest contenders for much of the campaign thanks to Diego Osella’s well-organised unit but a defeat to Independiente followed by clasico humiliation to Central and now a narrow loss against Boca, has finally seen their dream of lifting the trophy fade.
Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s side were far from their best and clearly miss the injured Ricardo Centurion but the inclusion of Colombian defensive midfielder Wilmar Barrios served to highlight the mistake it was not to play the 23-year-old against River.
Dario Benedetto’s fifteenth of the season was again enough to earn three points and while the win over Newell’s keeps Boca as slim favourites, the visit of Independiente in two weeks looks decisive.
El Rojo are the Primera’s other form side but unlike River, their revival has come a little too late and while the target of Copa Libertadores qualification is in their grasp, Boca are likely too far ahead. Ariel Holan’s impressive, young side earned a last-gasp victory over Huracan on Saturday to maintain their ten-match unbeaten run and captain Nicolas Tagliafico has been rewarded with a place in the Argentina squad.
So what happened to the rest of the chasing pack?
San Lorenzo’s outstanding form came crashing to an end with defeat at home to relegation threatened Aldosivi on Sunday afternoon and while the six straight wins recorded prior to this propelled Los Cuervos into the Libertadores last 16, the inability to find a way past Aldosivi has likely cost them in the league.
El Tiburon had lost seven consecutive matches ahead of their arrival at the Nuevo Gasometro but ground out a vital win, with Arsenal, Temperley and Olimpo all winning down at the bottom of the descenso.
Banfield’s unlikely challenge came to a swift end with a 3-0 defeat away to Atletico Tucuman, Estudiantes were stunned by Olimpo in Bahia Blanca and Racing were well beaten by Rosario Central as every side in the top eight barring the big two lost.
The surprising set of results may have limited the competition but given the two left standing it promises to be a exciting finale.